Tag Archives: Student Guides

Rogue Guides Still a Problem

Student tours as social agitation

by James A. Bacon

The Jefferson Council continues to receive negative reports about the student tours at the University of Virginia. On Nov. 11, 2023, an alumnus posting under the name JBHoo05 wrote the following on the Virginia Sportswar message board

We had heard the tour at UVA was not good but decided to still go ahead and schedule one today. Even with low expectations, the tour managed to be worse than we expected. Our guide was kind but at times I wondered whether she even really liked UVA despite telling us at the end how much she loved it. We heard about how the dining hall food is not great (a given at a lot of schools but aren’t you supposed to spin things with a somewhat positive light on these tours?), how the school is “mostly safe” (who says that on an admissions tour?), how UVA has won 31 national championships in football (I wish), how almost all your classes will be in this area (we were standing in front of Cocke Hall), and then to top it off – a depressing 15 minute lecture (standing in the middle of the lawn on a beautiful day) on how the grounds were built with enslaved labor and details about the white supremacist rally (we were warned before she started that some of us might need to step away and take a break because we were about to start discussing some pretty hard stuff….what???). I have no problem participating in difficult discussions about UVA’s history but why in the heck would that be on an admissions tour and be one of the longest parts of the tour?

The last time we checked, back in June, University of Virginia officials assured us they were dealing with the problem of UVa-loathing Student Guides turning off prospective students with negative tours. The Admissions Office had hired an associate dean to improve the experience for prospective students, had increased the number of paid interns to give tours with approved scripts, and was engaging in conversation with volunteer Student Guides, who for decades have been entrusted with running the tours. Continue reading

Who Guides the Guides?

Credit: Bing Image Creator. Sacagawea scratching her head, in the style of Frederick Remington.

by James A. Bacon

In the spring of 2022 University of Virginia alumnus Warren Lightfoot emailed Rector Whitt Clement, a fraternity brother, to share the experiences of a friend and friend’s daughter during a university tour. Among other negative observations about UVa, reported Lightfoot, the student tour guide had made a point of noting that the university was built on land taken from Indians, that it was built by slaves, that its plans were “stolen” from slaves, and that the University had caused little but harm to the residents of Charlottesville over 200 years. “Needless to say, my friend and his daughter were unimpressed, shocked and offended,” recounted Lightfoot, who, as a former student tour guide himself, had been proud of the institution he represented.

Clement thanked his frat brother for the email. “I have heard similar, but less disturbing, accounts. I am going to look into this — totally unacceptable.”

True to his word, Clement talked to Greg Roberts, associate vice provost of enrollment and undergraduate admission. The Office of Undergraduate Admissions coordinated with the independent, student-run Student Guide Service to brief prospective students about the university. Typically, officials with the university would meet with prospects and their parents, and then turn them over to guides for tours of dormitories, student amenities and Thomas Jefferson’s architectural masterpiece of the Lawn.

Reporting back to Lightfoot, Clement reiterated his concerns. “I have expressed my dismay about this tour guide and am told it is an isolated event and that the guide is gone. This episode is totally unacceptable. Even if the tour guide program is part of student self-governance, which I am told is the case, then they must do a lot better job in self-selection and with the content of their tours; otherwise, serious intervention and changes would be in order in my opinion.”

But by August 2022 nothing had changed. Frustrated by the lack of concrete action, Lightfoot got back in touch with Clement to say that “the nonsense with the student guides has not stopped at all.” Continue reading

“The Worst Tour of the 14 Colleges We Have Been on This Year”

A UVa college tour, circa 2019. Photo credit: UVA TODAY

by James A. Bacon

This past April a University of Virginia alumna took her son for a tour of the university conducted by a student-run organization, the University Guide Service. The woman had been a University Guide herself 25 years previously, an activity that accounted for some of her best memories and most enduring friendships at UVa. “We prided ourselves on the Guide Service being all volunteer, student led, and unaffiliated with the Admissions Office,” she wrote in an evaluation form obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The alumna and her son, a high school junior, made the rounds of some 14 universities this spring. As a former Guide, she wrote, “naturally I expected the Virginia admissions tour to be head and shoulders above the tours at other schools. Unfortunately, I was completely wrong and so disappointed.”

It’s important for university guides to be candid and honest, she wrote, but one also expects them to represent their institution in a positive light. “A prospective student should come away with the impression that the guide loves the school and is proud of it.” Sadly, her guide was negative and apologetic about the school. She complained about the large class sizes, the terrible advising system, the lousy food, and inadequacies of the mental-health services. Continue reading

Hiring Guides Who Hate UVa… Not a Good Look

By introduction, I am a graduate of The College and Darden. I continue to believe the University is the most special place in the world, for all the reasons that I’m sure you and your friends & colleagues share.

My oldest son is a junior in high school, and is interested in UVa. We went to Charlottesville this past weekend and naturally, signed up for an Admissions Tour. I still remember my tour in the Fall of 1992, which was hugely important in conveying the “specialness” of UVA and what Mr. Jefferson created. I walked away this past Friday thinking “This was nothing like the tour I remembered, nor what I expected.” Some high (low) lights: Continue reading

Want a Woke Version of UVa History? Go on a Student-Guided Tour.

by James A. Bacon

In June 2022 a University of Virginia alumnus took his college-bound daughter to visit Mr. Jefferson’s university. UVa was one of the young woman’s two top choices, and she looked forward to a tour of the Lawn and the Grounds. But disillusion set in quickly. At the orientation, a senior assistant dean welcomed prospective students with a four- to five-minute discourse on how UVa’s land had been stolen from the Monacan Indians and how the University was making amends for this historical wrong. And that was just the warm-up act.

Toward the end of an otherwise engaging tour of the Academical Village, a student guide launched into a “lengthy diatribe” recounting injustices ranging from the building of UVa on the backs of oppressed slaves to the infamous 2017 Unite the Right rally. The young woman was not impressed. If the recitation of left-wing grievances defined the zeitgeist of UVa today, this was not the place for her. She dropped UVa from her list of preferred colleges.

Sadly, the young woman’s experience was not an isolated one. Indeed, denigrating themes are woven through many, if not most, tours. Arguing the need to “tell the whole truth” about Jefferson and UVa, as they put it, student guides frequently cast the University of Virginia in an exceedingly negative light. Continue reading